Members for Church Accountability Inc.
1999 Third Quarter
This is the quarterly newsletter of Members for Church Accountability. The objective of this organization is to promote accountability within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. MCA itself is primarily an umbrella organization within which representative/agents and their supporters can work to further this objective.
Section 1 - Financial Report
Summary financial statement for third quarter 1999:
Section 2 – Trustees’ Reports
Norm Smith - Secretary Treasurer
For any of you that would like to contact us by e-mail our address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Our web site address is: http://www.advmca.org. Again we would like to encourage MCA members to read this web site and to invite their friends to read it. If you don't have access to the web, perhaps you could ask a friend who does, to let you read it. This is an economical means of spreading the word about MCA. Mailings are quite expensive by comparison. Information about a web site can spread quickly on the Internet. If each person mails the site address with their recommendation to several friends, and they in turn tell others, the word is soon passed to a large number.
You will notice that this third quarter newsletter comes rather soon after the second quarter newsletter was mailed. This is done in an attempt to get back on schedule and also to show members the letter that MCA has sent to the general conference president asking for permission to audit conference records.
In the way MCA is organized, the primary initiative for activities aimed at bringing about accountability reform is left to the groups organized within MCA, such as the General Conference Reform Group lead by George Grames and Stewart Shankel. The bylaws do provide that the parent MCA organization itself shall make the attempt to audit church records. As secretary treasurer of MCA, I have written the letter which follows to Elder Paulsen asking that such audits be allowed. We are not so naive as to think that such audits will be allowed without careful consideration. We think that at this time, as an organization, we should deliberately refrain from speculation on the probability that such audits will be allowed. If such audits are allowed we shall be delighted. If they are not yet allowed, we have taken the necessary first step in working toward this goal. At any rate our members and readers will know the conference response to this request because we will print the response when we get it.
Here is the letter that was sent to Elder Paulsen:
Dear Dr. Paulsen:
A group of SDA church members have formed an organization called Members for Church Accountability (MCA). I am writing to you as the secretary-treasurer of that organization. Members in this organization have become concerned about the degree of accountability to the church membership from the SDA church leaders. Events within the SDA church have served to focus attention on the need for a fundamental change in the mechanisms by which members are assured of the integrity of all of the dealings of this church, which they love and support. I am writing to you to ask you to work with us in bringing about needed changes.
I will not make this letter unduly long by listing the objectives of the MCA organization. These objectives and a presentation of our approach to bring about change can be found at our web site at http://www.advmca.org. MCA is organized in a way that allows various groups to work independently within the overall organization. I am writing concerning an objective common to all such groups in MCA. This objective is to guarantee that all church members have the freedom to access all church records. (Clearly, private performance evaluations of individual church employees and individual member contribution records, would be an exception to this general freedom of information guarantee.) We believe that our church should operate "in a goldfish bowl", that is, that all its dealings should be transparent and open to public scrutiny. We believe that our church should be so "squeaky clean" that it can easily withstand the spotlight of complete exposure. We believe that access to all church records through appropriate procedures should be the "right" of every church member. We believe that such "freedom of information" is fundamental to providing accountability to members and to restoring confidence in the integrity of church leadership. While members of our organization have justifiably drawn attention to events in our church that are of great concern, we are much less interested in criticism and accusation than we are in working to bring about changes in church policy and practice that will cure the problem of lack of accountability.
Specifically, we are asking that any group of SDA church members be allowed to audit any church records. In particular, we at MCA are asking to be allowed to selectively audit all church records. We are not asking this as an "outside" organization prying into the affairs of the church; we are asking this as a group of concerned church members. MCA does not claim to represent the entire church membership, but we do represent over 1600 concerned church members throughout the world. We believe that any other group of church members should have similar access to church records.
We believe that any group requesting such access should be willing to pay the reasonable expense of the church in cooperating with this access and that any such auditing should be done by engaging the services of professional auditors of the members choosing.
We at MCA openly admit that we do not yet have the resources in hand to conduct a selective audit of church records. What we are asking for at this time is agreement on the part of church officers that such auditing activity with access to all records will be freely allowed.
While we can understand that this request may seem novel, we believe that it is completely right, proper and reasonable. It is difficult for us as church members to believe that honest and responsible church leaders would do anything other than eagerly embrace such a possibility. It is our sincere hope that our church leaders will take every opportunity, including this one, to provide complete accountability to church members.
It is my hope as secretary-treasurer that you will respond to this letter with explicit assurance that such audits will be allowed. We look forward to printing your response in our quarterly newsletter.
Section 3 - Amendments and Elections
Section 4 - Member Letters
This section is for printing the letters that members send in. It provides the means for members to communicate with one another. It is also one way that representative/agents can communicate with those in their group. Needless to say, these letters do not speak for the MCA organization itself. So far as time and budget allow, we intend to print all letters from members which appear to be written for inclusion in the newsletter.. We will print the shortest letters first. Where it seems appropriate, the editor will make comments in response to letters.
Ray Foster writes:
The website looks great. While nothing may be apparent,there is no doubt that it and all that MCA is doing has no smallinfluence.
Norm Smith writes:
Because this letter follows the second quarter newsletter so closely, there are not many letters to print. I thought that this might be a good time to write a letter. I am not writing this letter as the secretary treasurer of MCA but rather as a member of the General Conference Reform Group within MCA. This letter represents my personal opinions and should not be viewed as an attempt to speak for all of MCA.
In the previous section you see the letter that was sent to Elder Paulsen regarding the need for the church to allow members to have audits made of church finances and the "right" of church members to have access to records of their church's activities. I would like to suggest that this same sort of openness should be the way the church operates at all levels. I would like to encourage MCA members to work toward making this happen.
A reasonable question to ask is whether there are any actions that can be taken that would be effective in bringing about such changes. I wish I knew the answer to this question. Three courses of action that could be taken come to mind, but only time will tell how effective they might be. First is simply to spread of the idea of the desirability of such change. One should not underestimate the power of ideas and beliefs. The second action that might be taken is to use the influence of ones contributions to bring about change. Many are justifiably hesitant to use the influence of their contributions in this manner. (MCA attempts to provide additional options in this regard - see our web site.) The third action is to use ones vote in church elections to bring change. It is this third action that I would like to talk about in this letter.
Although our church is nominally set up to be governed by the vote of the members, we as members find our votes quite restricted in the matters to be voted upon. We have some say in the selection of delegates to the conference constituency meetings. These delegates are able to elect or reject conference officers and they are also the ones who select some of the members of the local conference executive committees. The selection of constituency delegates and the selection of executive committee members is usually a loosely organized process to which few pay much attention. The election of conference officers is done on an accept or reject basis by the constituency delegates. It is not frequent that a conference president is not reelected. Even though this voting power of members is quite limited, it might be well to put it to use to bring about church accountability.
Before going further, I would like to again express my hope that MCA will not be an organization seeking to bring a spirit of "revolt" among SDA church members or engage in promoting any hostility toward church leaders. I would hope that we are a group of loyal church members who recognize that there is a problem in our church that simply must be corrected. I hope that MCA will be an organization facilitating members' efforts to correct serious accountability problems. We have limited the scope of efforts in the MCA organization to issues of church accountability. It is my own belief that God does not ask us to leave the church because it has problems with integrity, but I do believe that he would expect church members to responsibly use the energy and resources He has given them to make sure that the dealings of the church are conducted with honesty, integrity and fairness. There are so many things happening in our church that are clearly right. We would not want to disrupt these good activities. On the other hand, how can a Christian place integrity in the church anywhere but among his highest priorities.
It is the belief of many of us that there are two primary changes that need to be made in our church to assure accountability of church leaders to the church members. I believe that church members are accountable to God for the dealings of the church. Leaders are accountable directly to God as individuals, but their accountability to God as leaders is through their accountability to the church membership. The first change is for church members to be allowed to arrange for audits (perhaps selective) of all church records and for members to have a "freedom of information" right of access to all church records. The second change is that church policy decisions be made and church elections be held on a per capita basis among members. Church elections and major decisions are now nominally on a per capita basis, but the chain of representation is often clouded and generally loaded with conference worker influence. In order for accountability to members to be assured on a continuing basis, this representation needs to be reorganized. The most direct remedy would be to have all members of executive committees at all conference levels and all delegates to constituency meetings at all levels even to the general conference session, be elected directly by the church members with such representation on a per capita basis. I would suggest that the first change involving member audits and "freedom of information" needs to be immediate and is of highest priority. The second is a goal to be accomplished over a period of time and is more open to deliberation and negotiation.
How can a member vote to allow "freedom of information" and member audits under the present rules? Things do seem to be arranged, perhaps not deliberately so, so that it is hard for a member to cast such a vote. However, members do "vote" of sorts for the delegates to the local conference constituency meetings, which in turn vote for conference officers and some of the members of the conference executive committees. I would suggest that church members ask a question of their delegates, their conference executive committee members and their conference officers. I would suggest that they be asked if they favor and will work toward "freedom of information" for church members and allowing members to arrange audits of church records. I would suggest members use their vote to replace people who will not support these goals, with people who do. It is indeed unfortunate that the only direct vote church members are able to exercise is tied to voting for individual people. However, I would suggest that this issue is important enough that members use the only vote available to them to bring about change.
I would also urge that MCA members use great caution here. It is most important that we do not regard with hostility, those who oppose such changes. Those who disagree should not be cast as adversaries. Surely there can be differences of opinion about policies among brethren. If a brother disagrees about the importance of accountability, he can still be loved as a brother in Christ even though we may vote to be lead or represented by someone else. On the other hand, we would not want to assume that present leaders and representatives will oppose change about accountability. We would hope that many will embrace such policies that will help correct the accountability problems currently in the church.
When prospective constituency delegates, executive committee members and current leaders are asked if they favor allowing "freedom of information" and allowing church members to arrange audits of church records, they will appropriately ask that we be more specific. The following is a possible wording of what we are asking for.
Do you as one of the leaders of the conference favor the following provisions, and will you use your leadership to bring these changes about? Do you favor allowing professional auditors engaged by groups of SDA church members, to have access to all church records for auditing purposes. Such audits could be partial or investigative or be as complete as the groups of members desire and fund. Such groups would need to bear the appropriate expense for a conference worker to accompany auditors when they access church records. Access to certain records would be excluded, namely, individual member contribution records and records of routine employee personal evaluations. Records of employee disciplinary actions would not be excluded. Do you favor amendments to appropriate constitutions and bylaws that would give members the "right" to request and obtain copies of any church records ( with the above exclusions ) for a reasonable fee. These amendments would operate in a manner similar to the US freedom of information act.
Such a plan to vote in leaders who will cause changes that bring about accountability and openness in the church, can only be accomplished if members who are aware of the need for such change make the effort to convince their fellow church members of this need. In order to bring change through the voting of members, we need a majority of concerned members. I would not want to be naive about the prospects of obtaining this majority of concerned members. However, it is my belief that it is right to work toward this end in contrast to ignoring the current lack of accountability and allowing it to continue unopposed.
Since I have taken the liberty to print this rather long letter, I would like to mention that I have made contributions to MCA expenses of enough to cover the added postage.
We include the following blank for use in recruiting new members. ( Make lots of copies to pass around. )
MEMBERS for CHURCH ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. (MCA) APPLICATION (nl1Q99)
/__/ I wish to be a member of the General Conference Reform Group
You will receive the MCA newsletter.
Send to: Members for Church Accountability, Inc.
PO Box 1072
Morrison, CO 80465